Our quick Thanksgiving trip down to Florida’s Panhandle has made some lasting memories.
I-65 had fewer immense trucks (which travel the I-75 corridor in packs), and this route was a bit quicker, too. But still, big rigs (our nation’s lifeblood) were on the road, and too many cocky driver-darters as well, who didn’t care how very close they came to the cars and trucks they were gleefully darting around. This ‘devil-may-care’ behavior forced a couple of gasps out of us.
Once, in Alabama, expressway traffic slowed to a dead stop, leaving everyone stranded in hilly terrain. We found ourselves marooned on a hilltop. For miles and miles in both directions idling cars and trucks sat in a ragged line, fuming. “Oh, NO,” we groaned. “We could be stuck here for hours!”
No accidents (highlighted by flashing police lights) were evident. The view was terrific.
Thirty minutes later the congestion simply - disappeared.
We were open-mouthed. Grateful.
The highway led straight to Pensacola Beach. Our GPS guided us right to our hotel.
Florida was downright cold- 38 to 40 degrees- in the early mornings, but the sun did warm the flat land twenty-plus degrees by 10:00 a.m., to sweater-with-jacket weather. Perfect for bike-hikes with Bryn. Paved trails wound through vast, wild areas of state parkland, usually adjacent to dog parks. Benches along the way provided a place to stop and wander around. The land rose and fell only slightly, and we noted how different the foliage was; more than once I fancied that we’d been transported to Jurassic Park. Palm trees, huge, moss-draped oaks, gigantic ferns, lush, flowering bushes, rotting logs, strange birdcalls and invisible insects’ rasping calls, as well as sudden darkening when the sun would scuttle behind thick clouds, contributed to the peculiar atmosphere. At times, civilization’s usual sounds seemed a distant memory...
We enjoyed Pensacola Beach’s big, treed dog park, only 2 miles from our hotel, where Bryn would dash around, ironing out her travel kinks while taking in interesting plant and animal scents.
Each morning a slim, elderly man and his 13-year-old dog motored there, too. The fellow made it his business to walk the entire area, especially along the fence lines, to pick up stray dog poop.
And, to search for one more thing...
“I keep nimble, as well as keep the place clean. The job requires some agility. As I bend down, I loosen up. ‘Use it or lose it, you know.’
He looked at us thoughtfully. “Have you been introduced to traveling stones?”
Smiling at our puzzlement he bent to pick up a flattish, palm-sized one, offering it to me.
“I get a kick out of spotting them as I work. This new one, for example, has moved around the south. The tradition is to print the name of the state it’s in before it’s dropped off, usually at a dog park or rest stop along a fence line or by a tree. We have a Mississippi, Texas and Florida traveler that’s arrived here very recently. See?"
The stone carried the three names in indelible marker.
"And when there’s no room for another destination to be added, it’s ‘retired,’ maybe to a homeowner’s fish tank, or to his flower garden, to be pointed out to guests, who can speculate about its history. He pointed out the states’ names, painted on with different hands. I spotted a tiny happy face, too.
“If you take it with you, add your state’s name with a color-permanent Magic Marker. Leave it at a Michigan dog park or rest stop. A tourist or trucker might well find it. Mind you, the stone might wait for years to be noticed.
One fellow told me that his trucker friends often ‘salt’ one or two stones at favorite hotels’ dog-walk areas. Some that I’ve found have traveled through as many as ten states. This one’s relatively young; it’s collected only three.”
“Wonderful,” I said, delighted. “How long do you suppose this tradition has been going on?”
He thought a minute. “Well, much longer than I’ve been retired, I think. 40 years, maybe longer...Who knows? Maybe as long as there have been human travelers.”
I pocketed the blue-yellow-red decorated traveler, with thanks. I’d add our state to its surface, perhaps in green.
We left Florida refreshed by the major ‘sea change.’ Spontaneous bolts to elsewhere in this lovely country, done with minimum fuss and even less baggage, are great fun. It is a bit daring to ‘up sticks’ and go, but most forgotten items can be bought again. “The USA ain’t the backwoods,” Joe is fond of reminding me.
(To prevent leaving important stuff behind I’ve attached a list of essentials to the fridge with a magnet. Reviewing it has saved me more than once. Trusting it, I can be inter-state mobile in 15 minutes.)
A Michigan rest area now has two new residents; our Florida traveler, wearing a cheery green Michigan, and a flat, bare stone I’d found on our hotel’s Gulf of Mexico beach, which now sports a tiny daisy, plus our state’s name.
Someday, someone ‘in the know’ might pocket one, or both, and smile.